Hong Kong’s population projection does not justify costly island building in Lantau

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 3:54pm

Build it and they will come. That seems to be the assumption behind the government’s “vision” for the biggest infrastructure project in Hong Kong history: the East Lantau Metropolis – 1,000 hectares reclaimed from the sea around two islands and the wetlands behind Mui Wo, to house up to 700,000 people and a new business district.

The official rationale for this metropolis is that it is a “long-term strategic growth area” to address Hong Kong’s growing population and housing needs. Yet two years after the plan was announced, the government has not produced any qualitative or quantitative evidence to justify the need for such a colossal and costly development with far-reaching impact on the environment, marine life and the heavily trafficked water passageway.

Elaborating on Michael J. Sloboda’s letter, “Population figures don’t add up” (April 23), the population of Hong Kong, 7.3 million now, is projected by the Census and Statistics Department to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, and decrease to 7.81 million in 2064. The number of households, 2.43 million in 2014, is projected to peak at 2.93 million in 2044 and decrease to 2.91 million in 2049. So just as the East Lantau Metropolis is completed in the 2040s – adding capacity for 700,000 people and 260,000 housing units (at 2.7 occupants per household) – Hong Kong’s population will be declining and housing needs decreasing.

The irony is that, without this metropolis, the government will already achieve its housing targets. Hong Kong has 2.67 million housing units now, and the government plans to add 460,000 new units in the next decade, making for a total of 3.13 million units. This will meet the peak requirement of 2.93 million households in 2044 while the housing need will decrease from that point. The new metropolis is simply surplus to requirements.

If it is built, the implication is that Hong Kong will have a long-term population of 9.23 million. This can be calculated by adding up the planned capacity of the current nine new towns (4.08 million), the existing population outside of new towns (3.9 million), the planned population in new development areas and developing sites (550,000), plus 700,000 in the East Lantau Metropolis. However, the government projects the population to peak at 8.22 million in 2043.

Where will the additional million people come from? Who is going to live in the 260,000 housing units in the metropolis? What is the policy that will attract such an influx of immigrants to Hong Kong beyond the projection made by the census department to justify building a city in the sea from scratch?

Tom Yam, Lantau